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JUNGEE: THE MAN WHO STARTED THE BIGGEST BONFIRE IN ARABIAN SEA

The exploits of the Indian Navy during the 1971 India-Pakistan War are ingrained not only in the collective memory of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also the world at large. The missile attacks on the ships and at Karachi harbour and the subsequent burning of its oil fields for almost a week, were described as ‘the biggest bonfire in the Arabian Sea’.

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Today, 3 December 2020, is when the Western Naval Command celebrates the Killers Nite. The Killers are a special breed of people posted on small powerful ships. Readers of this paper may recollect an article on the Killers in which I brought out the yeoman service rendered by these spirited boys. They have a great legacy to live up to and one they celebrate every year as the Killers Nite. This is the day they remember and commemorate the 1971 war when the daring missile boats attack on 4 and 8 December, codenamed Op Trident and Op Python respectively, marked a decisive turn in the battle at sea. And the Killer saga was born.

Lt Cdr I.J. Sharma receiving the Vir Chakra from then President of India V.V. Giri

While 4 December has since been celebrated as Navy day with many official functions and receptions, the Killers Nite held on a suitable day in the Navy week is a more cosy and intimate affair where the personnel of the missile boat squadron get together. There is a rousing entertainment programme, a light and sound show depicting the attacks, the launch of Killers journal “First Strike” and felicitation of those officers and sailors who took part in the war. Every Killers Nite is also a poignant memory of the past as Father Time ticks, drawing many in its wake and leaving us with fewer stalwarts in the succeeding years. Thus, it is important to cherish our association and nourish those bonds as long as possible.

Cmde I.J. Sharma at his home in Mumbai post retirement
Cmde I.J. Sharma at his home in Mumbai post retirement

This year owing to the Covid pandemic, Killers Nite is being conducted in a scaled down manner, within the squadron and with no outside guests. Today, I am reminded of last year’s Killers Nite where I had the great privilege of meeting a 1971 war hero Commodore Inderjit Sharma (IJ from hereon). To my utter delight, I came to be seated next to him and the very elegant Rekha Sharma at the dinner table. As a navy historian, I was aware that IJ was the winner of Vir Chakra and, as the Commanding Officer of INS Nirghat, had fired the opening shots of the war. Yet it was like a fanboy moment when I got to meet and interact with him for long and ask him many aspects of the strike. I was humbled to find a grounded, simple man, speaking in a matter of fact manner. As he will not be there for the Killers Nite this year, here is a salute to icons like IJ and his compatriots who gave the Indian Navy its finest hour.

Approach and return chart of Op Trident
Approach and return chart of Op Trident

Op Trident and Op Python have been deeply etched in the memories of the nation and commemorated for five decades now. The exploits of the Indian Navy during the 1971 India-Pakistan War are ingrained not only in the collective memory of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also the world at large. The missile attacks on the ships and at Karachi harbour and the subsequent burning of its oil fields for almost a week, was described as the biggest bonfire in the Arabian Sea, by then CNS, Admiral S.M. Nanda, in his autobiography, The Man Who Bombed Karachi.

Lt I.J. Sharma receiving the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal from then President of India Zakir Hussain
Lt I.J. Sharma receiving the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal from then President of India Zakir Hussain

While it was the vision of Admiral SM Nanda, coupled with meticulous planning at the Directorate of Naval Operations and the Western Naval Command that went a long way in ensuring victory, the field work and execution was the onerous responsibility of the missile boat squadron. Due credit needs to be given to the planners for their foresight, but the hosannas should be for the men behind the machines who plunged into hostile territory sans fear or reluctance. The attacks with the missile boats were novel; the young Indian Navy had little or no experience in using the boats to storm an enemy’s port – not just any port, but it’s citadel—Karachi. Do picture these bold men on the high seas in a tiny vessel, an enemy at the vanguard and beyond them, oblivion. The grit, the nerve, the meticulous planning that would have gone into the successful execution of what many thought of as ‘mission impossible’, leaves one with goosebumps.

Lt I.J. Sharma and his wife, Rekha Sharma, sitting with then President of India Zakir Hussain after the Investiture Ceremony
Lt I.J. Sharma and his wife, Rekha Sharma, sitting with then President of India Zakir Hussain after the Investiture Ceremony

The scale of devastation caused by the missile boats was unexpected, considered hitherto implausible and far reaching. History records that after the attack on 4 December Pakistan Navy (PN) withdrew ships inside harbour and after the 8th, ordered them to de-ammunition. Thus, effectively, the maritime war on the western front was over within five days of commencement of the hostilities. In fact, the spectre of missile attacks so much haunted PN that false alarms on 5th Dec resulted in abandonment of search for survivors and on 6 December resulted in PNS Zulfikar being strafed by its own Air Force.

Fifty years after the war, the technicalities may have become blurry in our consciousness but legends about the heroics remain engraved forever. And IJ was one such hero in the frontlines. Around mid-November, 1971, IN Ships Vidyut and Nirghat had been forward deployed at Okha, along with INS Tir. On the orders of Cdr Mahendra Pratap, CO Tir, the missile boats would patrol the harbour in search of spurious radar echoes, that would be common occurrence during winters. Whilst their search would turn out to be futile, the patrols served as good night training to sail in restricted waters under strong tidal conditions.

Then Lt Cdr I.J. Sharma, CO, INS Nirghat, recalls in Cmde Vijay Jerath’s book, 25 Missile Boat Squadron, “All of nature, the world and indeed our nation including myself, seemed to be in a state of blissful tranquillity and peace—it was the sunset of 3 December 1971. Yet, the envelope ensconced in the pocket of my battle jacket marked ‘TOP SECRET’ shattered this pseudo sense of security. This envelope spelt out the fate of many an adversary at the hands of this small but formidable missile boat and the thirty odd men under my Command. In my pocket were the orders for Operation Trident, the first ever Naval Operation in the Indian Ocean—in modern times; the first ever attack on the citadel and might of the enemy—Karachi. My thoughts shifted to my men. How would they take it—I wondered? The time had come to justify our existence in the armed forces. Would we do justice to the confidence reposed in us by our Navy and our nation?”

In retrospect, we can say they did full justice to the confidence reposed in them, as they sailed stealthily into what many would describe as a suicidal operation, given the proximity to the enemy’s den. They could have been bombed, once they were detected, from air, land as well as water. Yet, they dared and INS Nirghat fired two SS-N-2-Styx missiles at the first detected target—PNS Khaibar, a battle class destroyer, almost thrice its own size. To be hit and sunk by a missile boat was a rude awakening for Pakistan. In fact, their initial reaction was of being hit by air attacks as missile boat attacks were completely unexpected.

Some authors and historians see the Karachi attacks as a more than fitting revenge for Pakistan’s raid on Dwarka during the 1965 War, of which PNS Khaibar had been a part. While that endeavour did not amount to much except destroy some civilian buildings and kill a cow, the Indian Navy had been unfairly targeted by some citizens and media who were not aware that the Government of the day had constrained the Indian Navy from operating north of Porbandar. However, Senior Navy officers of that time were determined that should another opportunity arise, the Indian Navy would take the offensive and storm the enemy at her gates. Thus, when Khaibar was the first vessel to be sunk in 1971, it seemed like poetic justice. As Maj Gen Ian Cardozo (Retd), in his book ‘The Sinking of INS Khukri’ wrote “Dwarka, I think, was suitably avenged”.

To return to our protagonist, after carrying out thorough checks of Nirghat’s readiness for the attack, I.J. Sharma, had a passing thought, as recalled in the book, 25 Missile Boat Squadron, “My thoughts too diverted to Bombay and my family. We were going on a mission, which some classified as suicidal. Will I see them again? But this was not the time to indulge in negative thoughts. Without cluttering our minds, the time was to execute plans for which we had trained ourselves for many months. With that, I made my way back to the Bridge. Having received the report that the ship was ready in all respects to proceed to sea and for action, I waited for the clock to strike the exact time to sail and ordered the engines to be started.”

The steely resolve of the men onboard the missile boat coupled with the ingenuity of the planners finally bore fruit. Nirghat drew first blood during the 1971 War, setting the stage for the other missile boats of the Killer Squadron and subsequently for Op Python in the days to come. This decapitation on Western Front gave the necessary fillip required to create a blockade between West and East Pakistan. And that is a story known to many. But what about the man himself? Speaking to him last year, all I could elicit from the sprightly 84 years ‘young man’ were few stray comments here and there interspersed with questions about the navy of today. One memorable line was his cryptic remark “I hail from present day Pakistan, my ancestral village was near Lyallpur, I have grown up in Tandlianwala. I have often wanted to visit my birthplace. But I wonder if Pakistan would give me the visa if they knew I was the first one to start the naval war.”

To know more about him then we have to turn elsewhere. To a recent biography by his daughter Priya Sharma Shaikh called Jungee: A Warrior’s Journey. It is a finely crafted, detailed and affectionate look at her father’s life. And it is a remarkable narrative. About overcoming penury and adversity. About assimilating the Navy’s cosmopolitan culture while staying rooted to tradition. About his tender relationship with his wife Rekha. About fighting norms of patriarchy and orthodoxy while dealing with his own devils. But, above all, it is a fascinating story of the transformation of a small village boy into an extraordinary leader and warrior.

IJ joined Navy as a sailor in 1954 and by the dint of his hard work and determination qualified to be an officer, getting commissioned in September 1960. His contemporaries were the 16th course NDA which has produced distinguished officers like Adm Sushil Kumar, VAdm Avnish Tandon, VAdm Verghese Koithara, RAdm Raja Menon and RAdm SK Das among others. Das says of him “To me personally IJ is sheer warmth as a friend, a source of joy and inspiration and an example to emulate”.

IJ proved his mettle early on as Commanding Officer of INS Sharda, a small vessel meant for patrolling and curbing smuggling in the Palk Strait. The magnificent performance of IJ and his men during the super cyclone that hit Dhanushkodi in December 1964 earned them national acclaim. IJ acted on his own initiative when communication with naval authorities in Chennai (then Madras), broke down, navigated his ships through hazardous waters, ferried people continuously through stormy seas and rescued more than 3,000 people among the fishing community and others who had been struck by the cyclone. For his leadership and service, IJ was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) during the Republic Day honours in 1966 making him, possibly, the youngest recipient of the award, at less than 30 years.

Specialisation in Gunnery and selection for the prestigious command of INS Nirghat a few years later seemed like natural succession. Thus, it seemed destined when on the evening of 3 December, Cdr Khambatta, the Resident Naval officer in Okha handed over an envelope and told him “You should be proud to be part of independent India’s first offensive naval operation, the first ever attack on the fortress of the enemy’s strength—Karachi. This envelope spells death or glory for your men and you”.

That it was not death but glory alone, that Nirghat was the splendid opening act of a daring attack by the Indian Navy is now matter of history. The consequent award of Vir Chakra to IJ seemed a matter of course. The small ship of 30 people was awarded another Vir Chakra for the sailor who readied the missiles MN Singhal (Master Chief Electrical Artificer Power) and three ‘Mention in Despatches’. However, there is no doubt that the entire crew lived up to the ship’s motto ‘Dushmano Ka Nishchit Ghat, Nirghat Nirghat Nirghat’, which incidentally was carried forward by the next incarnation of Nirghat as well.

IJ carried on his distinguished service in various assignments before retiring prematurely as a Commodore in 1986. His sterling career was also embellished by his reputation as a good singer, as a yachtsman and as the leader of the Navy’s marching contingent on Republic Day 1975. The last development must have been particularly sweet considering that he was marked for special drill training when he joined the Navy. He continued his love for sea by doing almost a decade’s stint with Mazagon Docks Limited in shipbuilding and then in the private maritime sector before finally calling it a day.

IJ’s story is extraordinary for several reasons and at several levels. A boy whose ‘family was mercilessly driven out during partition coming back to decimate the pride of PN’ is very poetic but there are other—prosaic—reasons too. First, it is because we actually have this hero amidst us in flesh and blood, a real hero not the synthetic ones that our dream factories manufacture. Second, it is the story of indomitable determination of a person who was not fortune’s favoured child but took reverses in stride and stayed resolute at every step. Third, and most importantly, IJ represents the finest aspects of the Navy’s ecosystem—that it could recognise talent and groom him for leadership. A perfect example of this is that IJ, as a sailor on INS Mysore was the coxswain of the Captain (S.M. Nanda), who encouraged him to study and aim to become an officer. The fact that IJ, as an officer, many years later, played the opening act in Nanda’s grand design is testimony of destiny’s great hand.

In the early years of their marriage IJ was called ‘Jungee’ by his wife Rekha due to his combative, uncompromising, pugnacious nature. It was the same quality that stood Jungee in good stead when opportunity to make history presented itself. This is best seen in the small rousing speech he gave his men just few hours before the attack when he said “The Navy has trained us over the past two years and each of us has worked very hard to master our craft for this very moment. This operation’s success is in our hands, so when we fight let us fight with acuity, determination and courage”. It is precisely these attributes that defined Jungee.

Cmde Srikant Kesnur and Lt Cdr Divyajot are serving naval officers associated with the Naval History Project. While the article has been written as a first person account of the former it owes much to the research assistance of the latter. Views expressed are personal.

The photo credits are as follows: For the chart – Naval History Division, For others – Priya Sharma Shaikh

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Defence

‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’

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The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.

Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.

On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”

He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”

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SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI

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The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.

Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.

Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.

Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.

Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.

During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.

To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.

Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.

With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.

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IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT

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An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.

The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.

The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.

More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.

During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.

Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the

IAF, he said. 

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ARMY ORGANISES EXHIBITION IN JAIPUR TO COMMEMORATE INDIA’S VICTORY IN 1971 WAR

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JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.

Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.  

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BRO makes history, appoints woman Army officer in-charge of road construction unit

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The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has appointed a woman Army officer for the first as the Officer Commanding of its 75 road construction company (RCC) in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The three platoon commanders under Major Aaina, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K became the first women RCC. The appointments were made on August 30.

BRO on Sunday recalled the list of women officers who were assigned higher leadership roles in the organisation in the current year.

According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, BRO has inducted a large number of women into its workforce over the years, right from officers to the level of commercial pilot license holders. “In this regard, a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) officer EE (Civ) Vaishali S Hiwase took over the reins of 83 Road Construction Company on April 28, employed on an important Indo-China road connecting Munisairi-Bughdiar-Milam, in an area full of adversity and challenges. The lady officer has taken control and is leading the charge with meticulous execution of her tasks,” the statement said.

“The BRO created history again on 30 August when Major Aaina of Project Shivalik took charged as Officer Commanding, 75 Road Construction Companies (RCC) at Pipalkoti in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. She is the first Indian Army Engineer Officer to command a road construction company. Not only this, all three platoon commanders under her, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K are lady officers and they have together created a first-ever women RCC. The Border Roads plans to make four such all women-led RCCs, two each in North Eastern and Western Sectors.”

As India celebrates 75 Years of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it also celebrates the ongoing efforts of our Nation towards women empowerment. Women today have started assuming their rightful, equal place as the frontrunners in nation-building and representatives of our strong national character, the statement read.

Over the last six decades, in a graduated and steady manner, the BRO has increased the number of women employed in various roles and duties of road construction. A consolidated effort is being made to empower them by giving them authority and responsibilities to undertake work independently. These women have become symbols of Nari Shakti in their respective areas.

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IN FIRST FOREIGN VISIT AFTER TAKING OVER AS CDS, GEN BIPIN RAWAT TO VISIT RUSSIA, US

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In his first visit abroad after taking over as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat will be visiting Russia and the US.

Rawat took over his new office as CDS on 31 December 2019, and since then has been declining foreign invitations for focusing on the new assignment of integrating the defence forces as a combined fighting force. “There is a conference of the CDS-rank officers of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement member countries. China and Pakistan are also part of this grouping,” senior defence officials said.

The CDS conference would be focusing on addressing the regional security issues and Afghanistan is also likely to come up for discussion, they said.

The CDS would also witness the activities of the respective armed forces taking part in the SCO peace mission drills being held in Russia. Indian Army and Air Force are also taking part in the exercise there.

The visit will take place in the coming week and soon after return from Russia, Rawat would be leaving for the US for meeting his counterpart and other American military leadership at the Pentagon.

The two countries have been coming closer militarily in the last few years and have been holding multiple military exercises and hardware cooperation.

The Indian military saw a major change in senior-level structures under the Narendra Modi government as the focus is now on the theatrisation of the fighting forces and bringing in more capabilities and jointness among the three services. 

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